- Driving the Bow: Fiddle and Dance Studies from around the North Atlantic by Ian Russell and Mary Anne Alburger
Research on fiddle music of the North Atlantic world, of the Nordic countries, and of English-speaking ones (or bilingual cultures, with English being one of the languages) has always been dominated by an intimate mix of scholar/performers and performer/scholars. The vast majority of those among these researchers who have formal academic training are folklorists, but many researchers, while careful and energetic, do not have “book” training as either musicians or scholars. An overlapping, slimmer, but still substantial majority are natives of and working in the countries whose fiddling they study. Much contemporary research remains strongly oriented toward meticulous reportage of history, repertoire, and style. Many performers with a scholarly bent focus on the histories of their fiddle repertoires (often with some nostalgic tinting), and most academics who fiddle favor older styles—in many countries, these tend to be easier to wrap one’s fingers around in an elementary way—have a linked predilection for salvage folklore, and tend to romanticize fiddling every bit as much as do the performer/scholars. In a complementary trend, other researchers prefer to examine recent and ongoing changes in fiddling, looking especially at how new contexts favor innovations for good or ill.
This collection is the second in a series coming out of a recurring event, the North Atlantic Fiddle Convention (held in Aberdeen, Scotland, in 2001 and 2006, in St. John’s, Newfoundland, in 2008, again in Aberdeen in 2010, and in Derry, Northern Ireland, in 2012). The articles in Driving the Bow represent modest expansions of many of the papers read at the second conference. (In a world in which symmetry came more easily, there would also be a CD from each conference representing the concerts and evening jam sessions that are every bit as central to the proceedings.) The authors, a representative array of performer/scholars and scholar/performers, explore an apt sampling of fiddle research topics. After the first essay, Alan Jabbour’s elegant conference keynote speech, “Fiddle Tunes of the Old Frontier” (meaning the US Upper South), the articles move roughly from east to west in geographical focus, and at the same time, move on the average from the distant past to much closer to today.
Gaila Kirdienė, in “The Folk Fiddle Music of Lithuania’s Coastal Regions,” presents a detailed profile of the fiddlers, fiddle history, and fiddle styles in what she describes as one of the five basic style areas of Lithuania. This is basic, factual ethnography, welcome because there is precious little published on Lithuanian folk music of any kind in English. Although music transcriptions abound in this article, the lack of a companion CD is especially sad here. Next comes a set of three essays describing the lives and research of prominent individual fiddlers/scholars of the past. Katherine Campbell writes about the life and activities of Scottish amateur fiddler and collector George Riddell (1853– 1942) and annotates some songs and tunes gathered up and published by this early community salvage folklorist. Elaine Bradke reports on an ongoing project to make accessible James Madison Carpenter’s (1888–1984) collections in England, particularly from dance fiddler Sam Bennett (1865–1951), himself a collector, and two other similarly long-lived English dance musicians. She compares the repertoires and styles of the three on the basis of contemporary comments and from Carpenter’s transcriptions. Eoghan Neff describes the performance practice of semi-professional fiddler John Doherty [End Page 103] (1895–1980; fiddling is a healthy activity) of Donegal, Ireland, as a takeoff point for arguing that Donegal fiddling tends to be surprisingly individualistic in terms of approaches to form (both broad and intimate) and to timbre.
Three articles on folk dances done to fiddle follow; the first two essays focus on...